Monday, January 30, 2012

The Mystic Market by Ruth Perkinson

Publisher:       Bella Books

Ruth Perkinson doesn't write books that are easy to read.  She chooses topics that some people find disturbing and she uses words in ways that build images and create thoughts that are one moment crystal clear and then floating on the air in an ethereal manner the next.  She tells a deceptively simple story that suddenly unveils deeper emotions and subjects.  The reader has to concentrate to make sure that she's not missing anything as the plot progresses.  This style makes Perkinson's books rich in content, challenging for a reader and rewarding to read.

The Mystic Market is a combination grocery, bar and tackle shop located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and run by Diana Tucci and her sister Fannie Crabwell, the town's resident Tarot card reader and general eccentric.  It's also home to Deputy Blair Wingfield and her paralyzed brother Aaron.  They are as much a part of the scenery as the market itself and life goes on at a pretty regular pace until a death rocks the small town.  Mary Louise Martinez is found hanging from the net on the basketball court at the local high school.  The device she used to hang herself was a rainbow flag and she left a note blaming the school and the basketball coach for the bullying that was aimed at her.  When Mary Louise's parents decide to sue the school system, they hire Fannie's daughter Emma Jacobs as their lawyer and Jackson Hole finds itself at the center of a media swirl about gay rights and bullying.  Blair is plunged into her own chaos when Aaron ends up in the hospital fighting for his life after a stroke and she finds herself attracted to Emma, a supposedly straight woman.  Blair is forced to deal with a number of issues she'd just as soon avoid.

The Mystic Market is not as deadly serious as it sounds.  Perkinson manages to inject humor into quite a bit of the book.  In the opening scene a young Blair is listening to a sermon and finds the answer to why God lets bad things happen to good people.  When the priest recites, "Even the hairs of your head have all been counted," Blair finally understands that God suffers from OCD.  He's so busy counting hairs that he can't pay attention to anything else.  There are also warm and caring scenes between Blair and Aaron, aka "The Stephen Hawking of Jackson Hole."  Aaron is the type of character that wraps himself around a reader's heart and makes you wish you really knew him.

Perkinson does deal with weighty issues in this book.  There is constant friction between Blair's atheism and the beliefs of other characters.  The trial revolves around the problem of anti-gay bullying, the religious right and the role that schools need to play in protecting students.  As with many books written by gay people, the issue of how people choose to form families is crucial.  And there is the growing attraction between Blair and Emma, which doesn't make sense to either of them, but draws them together like a moth and a flame.

Perkinson also writes a very dense story.  The book is 171 pages, but contains enough information to feel like it's well over 200.  She chooses her words carefully and they blend together to create a multitude of images all at once.  Sometimes it is necessary to re-read a passage to make sure that everything has been absorbed.  Perkinson never talks down to her readers.  She assumes they can assimilate what is going on without constantly backing up over or explaining the plot points.

The Mystic Market is a thoughtful book.  The story itself can be easily read and enjoyed, but the reader who looks for more will find it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

L.A. Metro by RJ Nolan

Publisher:      L-Book

Kimberly Donovan and Jess McKenna know about betrayal.  Kim was forced to leave her last position at a hospital when false accusations were made against her and her closeted lover refused to support her.  She comes to LA Metro hoping to start over and that her past won't follow her.  Jess McKenna, the chief of LA Metro's ER, is an emotionally closed off workaholic who uses her icy reputation to cover her inability to make a relationship work with another woman.  Jess limits her personal contacts to her sister and her Great Dane Thor.  If not totally satisfying, that has kept her from being hurt again.

Kim is a unique individual though.  Her positive attitude and her willingness to volunteer to be the psychiatric resident in the ER wins over everyone, including a very reluctant Jess.  Slowly they develop a friendship, which is where they both swear they're going to keep the relationship, but it's not to be.  Secretly, each woman wants to pursue something deeper, but neither of them is sure she can open up enough for that, especially Jess.  Each one has made such poor choices in the past that she's not sure she can trust her instincts for the future.

RJ Nolan's ability to develop characters and create plots is showing improvement in each book that she produces.  L.A. Metro is her most complex novel to date.  Underneath the typical romance is a story about how damaging relationships can be and also how they can heal.  Kim shows the same patience building a bridge to Jess that she shows in building bridges between the departments in the hospital.  The struggle that Jess goes through with her intimacy issues is extremely realistic and touching.  These are mature women who deal with situations in a mature manner.  Everything isn't perfect in their world, but they deal with it.  It's nice to read a story where relationships develop gradually, plus confront and deal with real situations.

L.A. Metro is an entertaining story.  Nolan's fans of her previous books won't be disappointed.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cresswell Falls by Kerry Belchambers

Publisher:        Blue Feather Books

Christina Brewster never expected to move back to her hometown Cresswell Falls permanently.  Since her parents' divorce, her time has been spent traveling with her mother and then following a very successful career in modeling.  Christina has retired from modeling however and on a trip home to visit her father, she agrees to take over running his successful realty company.  Alicia Sanders married the town sports hero who because a professional baseball player.  His long absences from home and inability to connect with Alicia and their young son ruined the marriage and now she wants to sell their home.  That is what brings Christina and Alicia together; then, they discover they have other interests in common.  Alicia has a talent for designing clothes and Christina sets them up in a company to promote her work.  There is also an attraction between them that confuses Alicia and worries Christina.  Christina thinks the way to deal with that is to push Alicia into the arms of a man, but Alicia eventually develops other plans.

Cresswell Falls is the debut novel for Kerry Belchambers and it's a better than average first book.  On the surface, it is a romance, but it covers issues beyond that.  Belchambers captures the problems of living in a small town where everyone knows you and everything you do.  The book is also about forgiving people for the past and the destructive power of words.  The biggest lesson though is about learning the difference between what you are responsible for and what you cannot control.  All of these can make a life productive or devastating, something Belchambers illustrates quite effectively.

This book has a slightly different pacing to it, which is subtle, but unique.  This might be due to the fact that Belchambers is an African living in Kenya and writing about a small town in the United States.  Why she chose to do this isn't stated in the book, but it gives it an interesting touch  Cresswell Falls is a good story with a few twists and a good pace, plus the characters are appealing and more realistic than in many books.  It shows that Kerry Belchambers has real promise and has produced a book worth reading.

Bingo Barge Murder by Jessie Chandler

Publisher:    Llewellyan Worldwide Ltd. (Midnight Ink Books)

Bingo Barge Murder is the debut novel for Jessie Chandler and the first in the Shay O'Hanlon mystery series.  It's another entry in the genre of slapstick stories that feature a bumbling amateur and her friends.

Shay O'Hanlon runs a coffee shop called The Rabbit Hole where her most difficult job is making a proper latte until the police want to talk to her best friend Coop about the murder of his boss.  Instead of working with a police detective who Shay finds very attractive, she decides to try and solve the situation herself.  The consequences result in kidnappings, more murders and tangling with Mafia hit men.  The entire plot revolves around a shipment of very valuable nuts that Shay manages to steal and that several other parties want.  Along the way Shay acquires a large, but loveable dog and manages to put more of her friends in danger.  Even taking the beautiful  Detective Bordeaux into her confidence doesn't insure that Shay will be able to rescue her friends or escape injury herself.                      

Readers who enjoy farcical stories with humorous characters will probably like this book.  It has the stereotypical people – the hapless friend who can't do anything right (Coop), the feisty older woman who doesn't know when to be quiet (Eddy) and the unrepentant gossip (Kate).  The villains also fit into typical role models.  None of the characters are developed beyond their roles, so they tend to be rather flat.  The story moves along at a clip however and has enough ridiculous situations to be amusing.

True lovers of mysteries will probably want to avoid this book.  There really isn't a mystery in it except to wonder how many inept maneuvers characters can make in one story.  Not once, but twice, Shay knows that "dangerous" people are after her and, instead of insulating herself and her friends from the threat, she decides to go to sleep or do something else which allows the criminals to catch up to her.  All Shay can talk about is how efficient and good at her job  Detective Bordeaux is, but then she treats the police like they can't solve a simple case.  Shay, who has no training at all, manages to keep finding evidence that is in plain view, but seems to have eluded the police when they went through the same area.  Bordeaux reveals that the police have been working on the case for months with few solutions, but Shay is able to settle everything in a matter of days. Vicious killers can't deal with an old woman or manage to shoot a gun and hit someone who is standing right in front of them.  After a while these inconsistencies become irritating.

Bingo Barge Murder isn't a bad book.  It simply contains many of the missteps made by first time authors.  There is enough good about it to hold out hope that Chandler will improve with experience.  She has a strong cast of characters to work with and that might be where the book went astray.  Since it is the first in a series, it reads more like Chandler was trying to introduce her cast than focus on telling a compelling mystery.  The book is fine for an entertaining reading, but it's not one that has you turning pages because you can't put it down.

Faithful Service, Silent Hearts by Lynette Mae

Publisher:      Regal Crest Enterprises

Faithful Service, Silent Hearts is a view of what life was like for gays in the US military before the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy went into effect.  Now that that policy has been ended, the book serves as a reminder of what used to be.  It's important that younger people have books that remind them of what people went through before changes were made in any situation.

Devon James excels as a soldier and a leader in boot camp and is quickly put on the fast track as an officer.  She is outstanding at everything she does, but she lives with the secret that she is gay.  Devon experiences great pain as her first love is taken from her in a witch hunt and she loses the second one to a tragedy.  Devon shuts down her emotions to protect herself and her career, but eventually will be drawn out by a surprising contact from her past.  When her career is threatened again, Devon has to make the choice between staying in the military that she loves so much or leaving the service and living a more open life.  Either one comes with a heavy price.

This story is well told and interesting.  It's a good debut novel for Lynette Mae because it features something with which she is personally familiar so the story has a sense of authenticity about it.  Some of the scenes are a bit rushed and the conclusion is somewhat contrived, but that's more a sign of a new author.  Experience should teach her to smooth out those bumps.  The book could have used a better content editor.  For example, in one scene two characters are drinking beer from a pitcher, go play a game of pool and when they return to the table, they are drinking from bottles.  It's little things like that which can distract an attentive reader and should not happen in a book.

As a whole, Faithful Service, Silent Hearts is a good read.  The weaknesses don't overshadow the book and it shows enough promise to make this reviewer curious to read Lynette Mae's next book.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My top 11 books for far

Lara Zielinsky asked me to make a list of the top 11 books I read in 2011 for the radio show we did and I never got through the entire list, so I thought I'd post it here.  There are two caveats:
  • except for the top 4, the rest of the books probably could change positions easily.
  • I haven't had a chance to read the latest books from Justine Saracen, Robbi McCoy, Ruth Perkinson or Amy Dawson Robertson.....YET.  I'd be willing to bet they would knock some books off of my list, but I'll have to see.
So, for what it's worth, here they are. 

1.  Shaken and Stirred by Joan Opyr tied with 

     Beyond Instinct by Lynn Ames and you couldn't
           find two books more different.
3.  The Indelible Heart by Marianne Martin
4.  After the Fall by Robin Summers
5.  The Wedding Party by Tracey Richardson
6.  Open Water by Pol Robinson
7.  Like Lovers Do by Lori Lake
8.  My Soldier Too by Bev Prescott
9.  The Girls Club by Sally Bellrose
10.  If the Wind Were a Woman by Kelly Sinclair
11.  Confined Spaces by Renee MacKenzie